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South Asian Regional Conference

based methods to support natural resource conservation in

developing countries: prospects and challenges

Jacqui Eales

Centre for Evidence
Based Conservation

School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, UK

oping countries hold a significant proportion of
the world’s natural resources.
resources are essential for human survival either directly, such as glacial water stocks in the
Himalaya or indirectly, for example biodiversity which is highest in tropi
cal regions, often
developing countries. Responsible management and conservation of these natural resources
is consequently a high priority on local, regional and international scales
. It is vital that both
makers who produce policies to manag
e and conserve natural resources and the
practitioners who undertake such actions are making their right deci
sions on the best
However, many natural resources continue to be depleted an
d exploited at an
alarming rate
There are
of course, ma
ny reasons for this trend, but it has become
increasingly apparent that many management decisions that might otherwise slow the rate are
being taken based on poor information or subjective judgements.

Current approach to natural resource decision making

So, what information are natural resource management decisions currently based on?
Generalisations are difficult across the region, but throughout, decisions are unlikely to
be based on the best available evidence. Although information relevant to a parti
topic may exist, in practice it is often not used by decision
makers or practitioners
There are a number of reasons why this may b the case. Poor or restricted access to the
most up
date and relevant information is common in developing countr
ies where
funding for information or academic journal access is very often limited. Conse
the evidence available
to decision
ers will often be out of date.
management and conservation practices will often continue in traditional ways,
the fact that newly available (yet inaccessible) research may show these management
practices t
o be inefficient or non
Even if the recent scientific research is
accessible, it is frequently written using jargon that the non
expert is unab
le to interpret,
meaning that much published research is unread and

unused for management purposes

In addition, the vast majority of decision
makers and practitioners simply do not have the
time to fully assess the evidence base for each policy or p
ice question that they have
They therefore may rely on single studies, well
placed experts or traditional and unsystematic
g studies or literature reviews
But individual studies, no matter how rigorous or
scientific, are not a sufficient evidence

base from which to make informed decisions. Studies
may be unsound

have poor study designs, be subject to bias, or draw the wrong conclusions
from their evidence. Even though it may be hard to believe, the peer review system is
inherently flawed! The mos
t well
written studies, those that show positive results, are the
Key Note


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most eye
catching, or support a popular current view in the field are mo
re likely to be
published. This
‘publication bias’
is a well documented phenomenon
. Furthermore, literature
reviews t
hat attempt to combine knowledge from existing studies may be prone to bias and
are unlikely to systematically assess the relevance and quality of primary studies, or to repo
their findings transparently

based approaches to decision making

ere is now an increasing focus on decision
making based on the best evidence
available, because it is well recognised that better informed decisions increase both the
impact of deci
sions and their value for money
based approaches base
on the careful use of the most up
date evidence. This is important, especially
in developing countries, where limited funds are targeted at the management of natural
resources, which present some of the world's most pressing problems. There is currently

a gap in the delivery of systematic assessments of evidence, in almost all fields of
research except human health. This presents a challenge to evidence
informed policy
making. The gap is slowly being bridged by the production and dissemination of a key
ool in the evidence
based toolkit, systematic reviews.

Systematic reviews as an evidence
based tool

Systematic reviewing is an approach that methodologically maps out the available
evidence about a particular question, critically appraises the evidence an
d synthesises the
results. Systematic reviews can then be presented in ways that make it easier for policy
makers and practitioners to rapidly understand and use the body of evidence as a
foundation on which to base policy and practice decisions. Systemati
c reviews are
explicitly different from traditional literature reviews in that they are trans
rigorous and replicable

Following a set protocol and carefully documenting the progress of the review means that a
systematic review is more transparent

(open to scrutiny and

audit) than literature reviews

Furthermore, systematic reviews reduce bias by systematically searching all of the
literature and extracting relevant evidence. Reviews are often conducted by teams, which
further helps to reduce the

bias a single reviewer might introduce. Additionally, good
systematic reviews will identify gaps in current knowledge, helping direct the focus of
future research efforts. This should also help reduce the chance that research will be
duplicated, by making

it clear what we do know and what we need to know.

The number of systematic reviews in the field of the natural environment is increasing year
on year, due in large part, to the work of the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence
(CEE). This not
fit organisation aims to support and guide the production of
environmentally themed systematic reviews, and disseminate their results widely
. The CEE
harbours an online, open
access library of systematic reviews that it has overseen, and
facilitates oppo
rtunities for peer
reviewed publication of the outcomes of systematic reviews.
Growing experience in undertaking reviews with an environmental theme has enable the
CEE to deliver necessary training in the process and methods of systematic review. The
boration has provided this training at levels ranging from basic to advanced to
prospective authors, commissioners and stakeholders, helping to promote and widen the
opportunities for systematic reviews in the environmental sector.

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Systematic reviews for
natural resource conservation in developing countries

based centres of the CEE are developing across the globe, and the CEE is
very keen to increase interest in evidence
based approaches in developing countries.
Establishment of regional centres

in developing countries is a necessary step in capacity
building for systematic reviews in these areas. Encouragingly, there has been significant
and recent support, both in principle and financially, for systematic reviewing in
developing countries and d
eveloping country themes. The Department for International
Development (DFID) has had a growing interest in the process, and has set out several
calls for systematic reviews to be undertake
n for topics of their interest.
These topics
include social develop
ment, political themes and environmental

resource status and
. The CEE has assisted in the support and training of review teams involved
commissioned systematic reviews (e.g. Himalayan glacier retreat; arsenic in
groundwater). The United

Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently been
involved in commissioning systematic reviews and has a growing interest in using
based appro
aches to assist decision making

The main challenges to the expansion of evidence
based approache
s in developing
countries of restricted access to literature, and importantly, limited funding are slowly
being addressed. The CEE can provide a network by which potential collaborations with
colleagues can provide access to previously inaccessible literat
ure. Growing interest from
major international organisations who have the capacity, funds and desire to commission
systematic reviews in natural resource management in developing countries is an
encouraging prospect. With the current trend in natural resou
rce depletion, capacity
building for evidence
based approaches in the region is a crucial stepping stone on the
path towards sustainable and responsible natural resource conservation.


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